The memorial service was short – just a couple of dozen well-wishers and a brief eulogy from a local Archbishop. RIP Battina the ex-battery hen. Joking aside, I was really quite surprised how attached I’d grown to ‘Batty’ as she was called for short. For creatures without much brain, chickens have rather a lot of character. Batty was queen bee of my trio of hens that were rescued from the dog food factory by the wonderful people at the British Hen Welfare Trust.
As I’ve written in several previous blogs, chickens are an absolute delight to have in a garden or allotment. They are always pleased to see you, and are great at turning weeds and garden pests into tasty eggs. If you’re thinking about it, I’d urge you to get going and start getting equipped now – it’s said to be best to buy your hens in spring like I did, almost two years ago.
Hens are sociable animals, and three is the minimum number for keeping them. So shortly after Batty’s demise I hot-footed it over to a local supplier and picked up these two beauties – meet Marian and Arietty.
So what lessons has almost two years of chicken keeping taught me?
- Don’t worry about a few squabbles as the girls establish their pecking order. Just like Batty did back in 2014, Marian seemed to be being a bit cruel to poor Itchy on day 1, but by their second day together everything seemed fine.
- Try to allow your chooks the opportunity to dust bathe in the summer. It’s good for them as it helps them deal with any parasites and keep their feathers in good condition. The sight of my girls all lined up in the old weed heap behind my plot, lying down with their legs in the air and feathers grey with dust was so sweet – you could tell they were having the time of their lives
- Never get complacent about red mite. These horrid beasties love to crawl up your girls’ legs at night and suck their blood – horrid! A regular dusting of mite powder with every change of bedding usually does the trick
- Don’t forget to give them a bit of variety – they love the odd treat. Weeds (especially chickweed and sow thistles), apple cores, slug damaged strawberries; they will all be gobbled up with relish.
Seeing first hand just how much my girls enjoy being outdoors, dust bathing and foraging for bugs and weeds makes me hugely sad to think that there are still millions of hens in this country that have never even been outdoors. One small way to help is to support the BHWT’s Mr Kipling Campaign.